August 3, 2004

Ex-drug czar eyes better education
by Amelia Jackson
Special to the Express-News

AUSTIN — Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former national drug policy director, said change is necessary to combat middle schoolers' use of drugs that were once rare for their age group, like ecstasy and heroin.

McCaffrey blamed ineffective prevention campaigns that don't address drugs more often associated with older populations. He also said drug education for middle schoolers needs improvement in general.

"Sixth grade is the onset of exposure to ecstasy, marijuana and beer drinking throughout the country," McCaffrey said. "The numbers are pretty conclusive: The later it is, the older you are, the less likely your exposure to drugs will cause long-term problems."

According to a McCaffrey news release, 72 percent of Texas students have used alcohol and a third have used drugs.

McCaffrey is aware of Texans as young as sixth-graders using heroin, said Bob Weiner, his spokesman.

At a conference here sponsored by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, McCaffrey and two other drug abuse professionals discussed ways to educate kids.

The age-appropriateness of the message is particularly important, the former drug czar said.

"You can't tell an eighth-grader if he uses marijuana he'll die of jaw cancer or lung cancer — he doesn't think he's ever going to be that old," McCaffrey said.

"You can tell them, 'You'll get pregnant, you'll look stupid, you won't get on the football team.' We have to craft messages for young people that are appropriate," he said.

Having retired from the federal government in 2001, McCaffrey serves as a distinguished national security professor at West Point, a consultant for NBC, and a board member for the nonprofit Phoenix Health Group and the for-profit CRC Health Group.

He was joined by the chairman and CEO of CRC, Barry Karlin, and John Lacy, director of Starlite Recovery Center of Center Point, outside Kerrville.

Lacy, whose 88-bed facility is owned by CRC, said plans are under way for a San Antonio outpatient center to open next summer.

He said getting help immediately is important for those with substance problems.

"The key is don't wait," Lacy said. "There's a very active Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous network throughout (San Antonio) where many people get the help they need."